Middletown Jews / Edition 1

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"Middletown Jews... takes us, through nineteen fascinating interviews done in 1979, into the lives led by mainly first generation American Jews in a small mid-western city." —San Diego Jewish Times

"... this brief work speaks volumes about the uncertain future of small-town American Jewry." —Choice

"The book offers a touching portrait that admirably fills gaps, not just in Middletown itself but in histories in general." —Indianapolis Star

"... a welcome addition to the small but growing number of monographs covering local aspects of American Jewish history." —Kirkus Reviews

In Middletown, the landmark 1927 study of a typical American town (Muncie, Indiana), the authors commented, "The Jewish population of Middletown is so small as to be numerically negligible... [and makes] the Jewish issue slight." But WAS the "Jewish issue" slight? What did it mean to be a Jew in Muncie? That is the issue that this book seeks to answer. The Jewish experience in Muncie reflects what many similar communities experienced in hundreds of Middletowns across the midwest.

Indiana University Press

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Editorial Reviews

Kirkus Reviews
The pioneering 1929 and 1937 sociological studies of "Middletown"—the small city of Muncie, Indiana—said almost nothing about the community's 200 Jews. This work, while not altogether satisfying, goes a significant way toward describing Jewish life there during the first three-quarters of this century.

Reading these interviews with Muncie Jews whose roots in the community go back to the 1920s, one is struck by how professionally homogeneous they were : Almost all the heads of households were merchants. Almost as notable is their lack of religious and cultural resources: There was and is one Reform temple (serviced by a visiting student rabbi) and a chapter of the fraternal organization B'nai B'rith. This has resulted in much intermarriage—apparently, a critical mass of Jews is needed for a community to endure—and some syncretistic religious practices by those who have remained Jewish; one woman recalls how her family lit Sabbath candles each Friday night but also had a Christmas tree. The word "tenuous" in the book's subtitle is well chosen. Revealingly, not a single interviewee recalls the establishment of the State of Israel in 1948 or mentions visiting there. Finally, the interviews reveal the extent of anti-Semitism in Muncie. In his useful introduction, Hoover (History/Ball State Univ.) estimates that fully ten percent of the town's citizens were members of the Ku Klux Klan during the '20s, and that restrictive covenants in housing persisted until the mid-'50s. This book could have benefited had Rottenberg, a Philadelphia-based journalist, and Hoover noted the broader political, socioeconomic, and cultural context in Muncie and provided some hard data on such questions as: What exactly was the intermarriage rate at various periods, or, how did the Jews' educational and income levels compare with those of their fellow Muncie-ites?

Yet if this history is somewhat "soft," it still is a welcome addition to the small but growing number of monographs covering local aspects of American Jewish history.

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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780253212061
  • Publisher: Indiana University Press
  • Publication date: 2/1/1998
  • Edition description: New Edition
  • Edition number: 1
  • Pages: 192
  • Product dimensions: 5.25 (w) x 8.50 (h) x 0.57 (d)

Meet the Author

Dan Rottenberg has published five books and hundreds of articles. He is also the editor of Philadelphia Forum, a weekly paper he founded in 1996.
Dwight W. Hoover was Professor of History at Ball State University and is the author of several books, including A Pictorial History of Indiana.

Indiana University Press

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Table of Contents

Preface: Beyond the Lower East Side
Editor's Note
Introduction: To Be a Jew in Middletown
1 The Beautiful Steak with the Pat of Butter 1
2 "I'm the Jew You're Talking About" 8
3 The Klansman's Beneficiary 15
4 At Home with Gentiles 21
5 "Muncie Will Always Be Home to Me" 25
6 "You Were Not Dealing with Urban People" 37
7 Avoiding the "Note of Hatred" 41
8 "You Can't Be Anonymous" 44
9 The Gentile Wife 61
10 Mankind Is Improving 67
11 "There Was No Other Temple" 74
12 Reform vs. Orthodox 78
13 An Instinct for Survival 84
14 A Jew Who Went Fishing 97
15 Tending to Business 102
16 From Metropolis to County Seat 106
17 "Nobody Seemed to Give a Damn Who Went to Church" 110
18 Where the Klan Still Lives 116
19 The Great Transformation 123
Epilogue: Since 1979 135
Afterword 137
Bibliography 141
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